Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
It’s a savvy move for a company that’s determined to be the ride-hailing choice of a younger generation.
The ride-hailing company Lyft announced Friday morning that it will provide free rides to students attending the March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence, which are being held in cities around the country at the end of this month.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green wrote:
We believe there is something seriously wrong when the threat of gun violence is so frequent and real throughout our country. And like many, we are inspired by your leadership.
We’d be honored to support your work with free Lyft rides to March for Our Lives rallies across the country on March 24 (please remember, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.)
Since February 14, when a shooter armed with an AR-15 rifle killed 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Kasky and other students have become national figures in the fight for gun control; they have organized a central Washington, D.C., protest on March 24, raised millions of dollars in star-studded donations, and have spoken powerfully before President Donald Trump, Senator Marco Rubio, and other political leaders about the need for gun policy reform. Their efforts have also encouraged dozens of major corporations, including Delta and United Airlines, the rental car companies Hertz and Avis, and MetLife Insurance, to cut ties with the National Rifle Association. (Some of those companies are in turn getting blowback from the powerful gun lobby and its elected allies.)
But Lyft’s move is a little different, in that it is an active show of support. And it is a savvy one: In response to the news, hundreds of tweets by other users suggested they’d be using the service in lieu of Uber, the country’s leading ride-hailing company.
This is in keeping with the other recent efforts by Lyft to distinguish the company as a more “woke” (as Zimmer famously said) ride-hailing option, compared to its more rapacious arch-rival. While Uber brought on a series of public conflagrations over the past year—#deleteUber, for example, arose in January 2017, after the company promoted surge pricing to and from JFK during a taxi strike protesting Trump’s “Muslim ban”—Lyft made demonstrations in support of progressive social movements. Among them: a $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union a few hours after #deleteUber emerged, a new option for riders to round up fares to give to charities, and discounted rides to Women’s Marches around the country this past January. “We’re not the nice guys," Zimmer told Time in March 2017. “We’re a better boyfriend.”
Whether Lyft is really the more socially conscious choice is a matter of some debate—for example, in terms of the paltry earnings of both Uber and Lyft drivers, neither brand is particularly admirable—but it appears to have been good for business. In 2017, the company doubled the number of ride bookings and gained market share.
Uber will not be offering free trips to March for Our Lives, according to an Uber representative.* But the move by Lyft to support teen activism seems particularly shrewd for a couple of reasons.
First, teens wield considerable spending power. It’s estimated that Generation Z—teenagers born between born between the mid-1990s to the early 2000s—spend about $43 billion as a consumer demographic. Second, fewer teenagers are spending their allowance on gas money, because they’re not driving as much as previous generations. In 2014, less than 25 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, compared to 46 percent in 1983. But there are clear signs that teens are hailing rides: A November 2017 analysis of users by the debit card and app Current found that transportation captures about 5 percent of teen spending overall, while Uber and Lyft represented 84 percent of teen spending on taxi services. Officially, Uber and Lyft drivers aren’t supposed to give rides to minors unaccompanied by an adult, but reports suggest ride-hailing has become commonplace for a smartphone-savvy cohort that’s disenchanted with driving.
Millennials and now post-Millennials have long been dismissed as a digitally dazed generation, reliant on their parents for transportation and financial support, and disengaged with real-world issues. What we’re seeing in the wake of the Parkland shooting is another narrative emerging: young people who are very much on the move, wielding the digital tools they understand best to shift the political landscape around their needs and concerns. No wonder Lyft is hustling to meet them where they are—politically powerful consumers, growing up to be unlicensed adults.
*This story has been updated to include a response by Uber.